As you’ve read many times in this newsletter, as well as everywhere else in climate media, the key to implementing climate solutions is in choosing silver buckshot over the proverbial silver bullet (until LK-99 replication comes through, that is).
Climate advocates keep coming back to the silver bullet metaphor not just because it is synonymous with “panacea”— a quick cure-all to deal with the climate impacts that two-thirds of Americans now say they notice are hitting home in their local communities.
The metaphor also works because silver bullets work against mythical beings, which is exactly how climate solutions can be portrayed both by proponents and detractors.
What this means in practical terms is that many, if not most, climate solutions need their own solutions to address drawbacks and optimize advantages. That presents another layer of challenges on top of an already-daunting problem, but it can also create a virtuous cycle of innovation and job creation when done right.
This week we take a look at solutions that are coming online for drawbacks to two critical climate technologies.
Installing a modern transmission grid remains the biggest hurdle to unlocking more than 80% of the climate benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act. Lower estimates suggest the U.S. will need 37,000 miles of new or refurbished transmission lines to bring renewable energy to urban areas to meet 2035 climate goals.
But another obstacle could still yet come from environmental activists who are opposed to building out new transmission lines due to their impact on birds.
Ecologists from conservation groups such as the Audubon society argue that since power lines kill up to 57 million birds a year, the climate benefits of modernizing the electric grid could defeat the purpose of protecting ecosystems.
But this week, the Audubon Society published research finding new solutions that are already reducing bird deaths while climate change poses a far greater threat to birds than installing more power lines.
One case study looked at Pattern Energy’s 550-mile long SunZia transmission line currently under construction in New Mexico. The project would link a massive wind farm in New Mexico to the Phoenix region in Arizona, but would cut through Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge along the way.
In addition to re-routing lines to avoid bird corridors, the SunZia line employ what Audubon calls “reactive solutions” after power line construction is built:
The effort hasn’t won over everyone in the conservation community. Opponents to the SunZia in Arizona point out the threat to birds could be avoided entirely by burying the power lines, although that argument may be an oversimplification.
Digging up ground to bury power lines has been shown for years to disrupt the habitats of insects, beetles and reptiles that large birds of prey eat. The Audubon report referenced a study showing that in the Rio Grande valley, underground lines would cause more harm than overhead.
Evidence has also emerged that bird deaths near power lines come from an entirely different human activity.
A study published this week found that more than two-thirds of the birds found dead next to transmission lines in Idaho died from gunshots. The remaining 34% were equally due to electrocution and collisions.
That suggests that of all the human activities impacting birds, our destructive impulses are the ones causing more harm than the unintended consequences of climate action.
Solar energy is the bedrock of the energy transition, but it comes with a well-documented ecological footprint of its own. There’s the mining of materials, the coal-powered manufacturing in China, and then there are the landfills full of PV panels.
Solar panel recycling seems like a common-sense solution to each of these environmental drawbacks.
First, recycling is the most immediate solution to the problem of vulnerable mineral supply chains required to make new solar panels. Each new PV unit means more silver, aluminum and copper needs to be mined in ways that are ecologically harmful and that count as a source of emissions (albeit far below all fossil fuels).
Those supply chains can also present a commercial risk, since disruptions can paralyze the industry and send prices soaring, as they did during the first quarter of this year.
So why not simply recycle the copper, silver and aluminum that has already been dug up and transported to further lower the impact of this climate solution?
But a close look at their progress highlights the difficulties. The main obstacle is economic incentive. The current cost of dumping solar panels in a landfill comes out to $1 per panel, while it costs $30 per unit to recycle.
After that, there are the technical challenges. Most elements of a PV panel are recyclable except for some of the most valuable bits, such as aluminum, or even the glass exteriors, which are bound tight to the rest of the panel with adhesives to make them weather-resistant. Fortunately, this is where a few new companies are seeing an opportunity for improvement.
Manual and machine labor can combine to separate the glass from a PV unit without shattering, allowing to sell the glass to sandblasting companies. High-quality aluminum scrapped from PV panels can be sold to aerospace manufacturers like Boeing to build new products.
The opportunity for commercialized PV recycling is still small with only a handful of companies still in the mix. But last year, the market cap for recycling passed $138 million thanks in part to IRA incentives, but should only be expected to grow alongside a boom in solar installations.
Check out some of the latest featured jobs below. If you don't see anything that speaks to you, you can always go to Climatebase to explore thousands of other opportunities.
“ReCarbn aims to accelerate the development of Direct Air Capture with the potential to remove gigatons of CO₂ from the atmosphere, thereby helping to limit global warming to 1.5 °C. The technology of ReCarbn is based on a moving bed (or ‘circulating sorbent’) technology, where the adsorption and regeneration are split into multiple sections. Our technology stems from over 10 ...”
“Pioneer's mission is to coordinate funding for rapid decarbonization. We are taking the pain out of the government application process by using a combination of LLMs and in-house consultants to reduce the effort required to identify, apply, and comply with government awards. We have a proven business model and rapidly growing revenue. Culture: We are an early-stage, remote-first startup passionate about ...”
“WATS is a climate tech company working to decarbonize commercial real estate with zero waste operations software. ...”
“SWTCH is pioneering EV charging solutions for multifamily and commercial properties across North America. We help building owners and operators deploy EV charging that optimizes energy usage and revenue at scale using existing grid infrastructure. ...”
“Founded in 2017, RCAM Technologies is a climate tech startup dedicated to reducing the cost of renewable energy and creating domestic jobs using automated concrete manufacturing technologies. RCAM is developing and demonstrating a suite of 3D printed concrete products including wind turbine towers, anchors for floating solar, wave, and wind energy systems, and a long-duration subsea energy storage technology. In ...”
“Powerhouse is an innovation firm that works with leading global corporations to help them find, partner with, invest in, and acquire the most innovative startups in clean energy, mobility, and climate. Powerhouse Ventures is a venture fund that backs seed-stage startups building innovative software to rapidly decarbonize our global energy and mobility systems. ...”
“Gridware’s mission is to create a future where suburban wildfires are a thing of the past. We provide a truly full-stack (hardware + firmware + software) solution for real-time monitoring of America's power distribution grid. The system centers around low-cost hardware platforms that are easily and permanently deployed to power poles. The platform detects and predicts faults that ignite wildfires, ...”
“SINAI is a San Francisco-based technology company focused on transforming the way companies price, analyze and reduce carbon emissions around the world. We are passionate about technology and the environment, and our mission is to engage companies and governments to include carbon analysis in their entire operations, transforming the way they interact with their own business, their value chain, and ...”
“Rumin8 is tackling one of the biggest contributors to climate change: methane emissions from livestock. The digestive process of beef and dairy cattle accounts for a full 3.7% of all greenhouse gas emissions, a huge contribution from a single source. With billions of people around the world relying on animal proteins as part of their daily diet, eliminating livestock methane ...”
“Climate Arc works to mainstream climate science into financial decision making – at speed and scale. We build arcs, or bridges, between the worlds of climate science, companies and the financial sector, tackling the barriers that are preventing capital flowing to net-zero solutions. We are an impartial, philanthropic organisation, staffed by people with deep expertise in the finance, climate and ...”
“EV Realty develops, deploys and owns grid-scale charging infrastructure critical to electrifying commercial fleets in the U.S. We accelerate the adoption of large EV fleets by focusing on the fundamental constraint all electrified fleets face: low-cost, reliable and expandable access to grid-scale power. Today’s electrical grid is complex, constrained and rapidly evolving. It is also the backbone source of fuel that ...”
“BlocPower is a Brooklyn-based climate technology company rapidly greening American cities. Since its founding in 2014, the company has completed energy projects in 1,200+ buildings and delivers results ahead of schedule and under budget. BlocPower utilizes its proprietary software for analysis, leasing, project management, and monitoring of urban clean energy projects and its customers are saving 20-40% on their energy ...”
“Rhizome is a climate resilience SaaS platform helping utilities, governments, and corporations adapt to climate change by leveraging AI to identify asset vulnerabilities and prioritize resilience investments. ...”
“A leading school of public health, serving the community, the nation, and the world. ...”
“Our mission is to enable the solar industry to scale efficiently. Raptor Maps is the leading provider of lifecycle management software for the solar industry. We support portfolio owners, asset managers, O&M providers, EPC contractors, and independent engineers with software solutions that enable organization and asset efficiency. Raptor Maps enable solar companies to increase performance, reduce costs, and standardize & compare solar ...”
“Since 1984, SCS has been a pioneer and leader in the field of sustainability standards and third-party certification, working across the economy in the natural resources, built environment, food and agriculture, consumer products and climate sectors. Partnering with companies, government agencies, NGOs, and stakeholders, we are striving to advance sustainable development goals through independent assessment, the application of sound science, ...”
“Our mission is to reverse climate change and return the atmosphere to 280 ppm CO₂. To pursue this challenge, we convert waste biomass into carbon-rich bio-oil and inject it into permanent, underground storage wells as a form of carbon removal, or reform it to produce green hydrogen and syngas for industrial processes like steel, cement, and chemicals manufacturing. In 2020 and ...”
“LevelTen Energy’s mission is to accelerate the energy transition by facilitating frictionless transactions. As the leading provider of renewable transaction infrastructure, we deliver the cloud-based software, centralized supply, automated analytics, and transaction expertise required to power the renewable energy economy. The LevelTen Platform is the world’s largest online hub for renewable energy buyers, sellers, advisors, asset owners and financiers, and ...”
“The Center for EcoTechnology helps people and businesses save energy and reduce waste. We make green make sense. We work with partners throughout the country to address climate change by transforming the way we live and work – for a better community, economy, and environment. For more than 40 years, our innovative non-profit organization has offered practical solutions to save money, increase the ...”
“At Waterplan we work in long term water security within the context of climate change adaptation. Waterplan is a fast growing startup in the Climate Tech Space that develops a SaaS platform for companies to manage water availability in their facilities. The platform combines companies' operational data with local water satellite imagery to provide a real-time financial assessment of water ...”
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